Podcasts and Diversity: 3 Points on Fiction’s Future

Photo credit: http://www.nicolassolop.com

Not so long ago, radio was a staple of the entertainment industry. You had your talk radio, your morning DJs, your rock n’ roll stations on FM, and so on. And to be fair, you still have them aplenty. But now, we’re seeing a massive upswing of Internet-based radio. Like podcasting. All of it ranges from NPR-style news programming to comedy shows where 4 people sit on a couch and make jokes for an hour and a half.

And thanks to podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and The Black Tapes, audio dramas are now a thing. We can tell so many new stories in so many ways, all by using the freedom of the Web. It’s why I think (for the reasons listed below) that what we see in podcasting today is what we’ll see more of in fiction in the future.

More inclusive casting.

When I say that a show or a story is more “inclusive,” I mean that it takes a chance on telling stories from more than a standard or “safe” point of view. When we watch a TV show or a movie, we might find it remarkable that someone in a leading role is non-white, non-straight, or female. But because of the audio-only format, a podcast story can make it so very, very easy to erase those distinctions. I don’t think anything out of the ordinary when I hear Jasika Nicole (an African-American woman) playing a trucker in Alice Isn’t Dead, or when I hear Joshua Ilon voice a detective (who happens to be bisexual) in The Penumbra Podcast.

The more we as an audience grow comfortable with this kind of casting, I think the more likely we’ll see such changes in our visual medium, too.

More audience interaction.

Compared to traditional media, podcasters are a lot more open and acknowledging of what their fans can contribute to their productions. While you might have read about how authors and studios are still hating on fanfiction writers and YouTube uploads that use their content, fans of audio drama have been a major support to their creators. Whether it’s creating artwork or merchandise, running blogs and Tumblr pages to support their shows, or even participating in contests and live shows as part of the act, the audience comes first to every podcaster’s priorities.

More radical ideas for storytelling.

At a certain point, both the film and television industries have come to offer a very standard approach to how they want their stories told. Screenwriters have to abide by a very traditional set of beats, or else they’ll lose a network executive’s interest before they can ever find an audience to engage.

However, that’s not the case for podcasters. As Night Vale Presents has shown, it’s possible to tell a story however you choose, so long as the episode isn’t overly long or boring. Want to tell the story of a dystopian nightmare as a series of cassette tapes promoting relaxation exercises? Done. Want to add some surreal horror as the CB radio broadcasts of a lone trucker? Go for it. Want to resurrect the radio variety show as a genre? Hey, why not.

The point is, as good as many movies and TV shows are today, they do still have a follow a traditional format for delivering their stories, from the Three Act Structure to the Hour-Long Drama. But not podcasts. They can be as wild as they want, and they’ll still get their audience.

So, all of this should give you a pretty good idea of why I love podcasts. Now, it’s your turn. What are some of your favorite things about podcasts and audio dramas? What characters or concepts do you love in shows like The Black Tapes or Welcome to Night Vale, and why?


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